PITTSBURGH - It began as such an innocent gesture, never hinting at the disaster that would come. An outfielder raises his glove, not to catch the ball, but to locate it in the sun, then goes into full retreat as it rolls to the fence.
Who knew that an inning would spin out of control?
David Newhan didn't find Matt Lawton's fly ball last night until it cleared his head in center field, making Lawton the first of four straight Pittsburgh batters to reach against Bruce Chen. The Pirates scored three runs in the first inning before an out was recorded, and Kip Wells blanked the Orioles through the seventh in a 6-1 victory at PNC Park.
"I never picked it up," Newhan said. "I take responsibility."
As they did in the 1971 and 1979 World Series, the Pirates won the last game against the Orioles (35-24). This series went three instead of seven. It didn't end any better.
Miguel Tejada ruined Wells' shutout bid with a leadoff homer in the eighth inning, his 17th this season. Wells (5-4) left to a loud ovation, and the Pirates' bullpen covered the rest.
"The kid mixed it up," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He took a little off his fastball, moved the ball around. It just seemed like we couldn't get anything started."
The Orioles boarded a charter last night for Cincinnati, where they'll meet the Reds tomorrow for the first time in the regular season. A new player, Eli Marrero, will join them after yesterday's trade with the Kansas City Royals, and their starting second baseman should return to the lineup.
Brian Roberts is expected to surface at the top of the order after taking part in more pre-game drills yesterday. His 20-game hitting streak ended Tuesday when Mazzilli sent him to the plate in the ninth inning.
"That's 36 games shy of anything that mattered," Roberts said, "so I don't think it's a big deal."
Roberts is healthy enough to play - he had a pinch-hit double in the ninth last night - but the Orioles continue to take it slow. And National League rules have limited the temptation.
"I'd be playing right now if we had a designated hitter," he said.
Sammy Sosa wasn't in the lineup, with Mazzilli choosing to give him additional rest tagged onto today's open date. Sosa had two hits in Tuesday's loss, including his sixth home run, and reached on an infield single in the ninth last night, but he's 11-for-53 since coming off the disabled list.
"He's starting to swing the bat, and it's getting a little warm, as well. That's when he starts going," Mazzilli said. "But today's the right day to do it."
Chen (5-4) still is searching for his first win since May 18, though he hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in his past four starts. The Pirates reached that total after four batters, but Chen shut them out through the sixth. Ramon Nivar pinch hit for him in the seventh.
"I felt like I made some adjustments after the first inning and was able to mix my pitches better," Chen said. "I got Lawton 1-2 and then I left a pitch out over the plate."
Lawton sent a high fly ball to straightaway center, and Newhan froze momentarily while trying to shield his eyes. Once he realized the ball was over his head, it was too late, with Lawton cruising into second base.
"It's a tough sun, but I thought I could have run it down," Newhan said. "He hit it in the right spot and I got a poor read on it. It's a terrible way to start the game and it put us in a hole right away."
Tike Redman followed with a legitimate double, Jason Bay walked and Rob Mackowiak tripled into the left-center-field gap, the ball rolling to the bullpen area as two runs scored.
Chen retired 11 of the next 12 batters before Jack Wilson reached on a bunt single to lead off the fifth inning. Seventeen of 20 Pirates went down after the triple.
It didn't matter. Todd Williams loaded the bases in the eighth before B.J. Ryan let all three inherited runners score, and the Orioles fell to 5-5 on their longest road trip of the season.
"We've got to pick it up," Mazzilli said. "This weekend, we've got to go out and we've got to win. No question. This team will do that. This team is like that."
Said Newhan: "We should have won two games out of those five losses, without a doubt. We've still got a chance to go into Cincinnati and turn it around and have a pretty good trip. But I don't think anyone's satisfied with being 5-5 right now."
Chen had one of the Orioles' nine hits, a looping single into left field in the second inning. He became their first pitcher to collect a hit since Jason Johnson on June 22, 2003, ending an 0-for-26 skid.
Like the rest of the Orioles, he would have preferred a win. Or a cloudy day.
End of road run
By dropping two of three games in Pittsburgh, the Orioles lost a road series for the first time this season:
Dates Road opp. W-L
April 8-10 N.Y. Yankees 2-1
April 12-14 Tampa Bay 2-1
April 22-24 Toronto 3-0
April 25-26 Boston 2-0
May 12-15 Chi. Wh. Sox 2-2
May 17-19 Kansas City 2-1
May 30-June 2 Boston 2-2
June 3-5 Detroit 2-1
June 6-8 Pittsburgh 1-2
Series totals W6, L1, T2 18-10